Man in a graduation toga above the mountain | Joseph Chan / Unsplash 10 Questions


10 Fascinating Things We Learned About Universities

This year marks UCLA’s centennial anniversary, and the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture is celebrating with a series of conversations called 10 Questions: Centennial Edition. Every Tuesday evening for ten weeks, experts from diverse disciplines will explore answers to big questions like “What Is Justice?”, “What Is Creativity?” and “What Is Love?” The discussions, held at Kaufman Hall on UCLA’s campus, are open to community members, free with RSVP. Can’t attend? We’ve got you covered.


What is a university? October 1, Emily Carter, sustainable energy expert and UCLA’s executive vice chancellor, and Peter Sellars, stage and festival director, discussed the role of universities in society. They said a whole lot of smart things, so we took a few notes, you should too. Here are ten fascinating things we learned from the night’s discussion.

1. The word “university” has the word universe in it. It’s about thinking holistically, looking at the big picture, and considering multiple perspectives.

2. The media loves soundbites, but universities don’t. Instead of trying to simplify things, a university expresses complex truths in clear, accessible language and images, making them easier for the public to grasp. Peter Sellars said, “As human beings, we're complex beings, and the things we make are complex and need to be understood in complex ways instead of reduced to a soundbite.”

3.  A university must be a force for good. (It’s like a super hero…. that you pay tuition to.) A university has a responsibility to harness its talent to solve social and technological problems and make the world a better place. As an example, Emily Carter mentioned climate change, and how we can’t just stop using fossil fuels. To solve that kind of problem, she said, “It takes ingenuity. It takes new invention. It takes training the next generation and the next generation after that. And that's what universities do.

4. The way countries are represented in most universities — a huge English department, a big French department, a tiny African studies department — don't reflect the places in the world that are hot spots for transformation and breakthroughs. Peter Sellars pointed the case of ocean issues in the Pacific and cautioned, “Americans are under-equipped and under-informed about these zones, and therefore inevitably our actions in those places are well intentioned, but colonialist, and frequently backfire.”

5. The kids might actually save us. (They’ve done it before.) Throughout history, young people are the ones who have challenged the established order and moved us all forward. The university’s role is to train, inform, and empower them. Peter Sellars offered as examples the young people who marched for Civil Rights, the young people who ended the Vietnam War, and the young people today who are focused on climate.


[Left] "Santa Barbara Brown Berets aka Moratorium in Maravilla" 1970. | Photo: Oscar Castillo || [Right] "Not One More (Girl with Beret)" 2016. | Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Click here to find out more about these images.

6.  Knowledge is held in communities, not by individuals. The world has become too complex and fast-moving for individual geniuses to have the answers. Today’s problems require expertise across many disciplines, and the best solutions will be found by people working together in teams. Emily Carter said, “I like to say, ‘All the simple problems were solved a long time ago, and the only ones that are left are really thorny and require many perspectives and expertise from many, many disciplines.’” 

Read more: Fun Facts About NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

7. Listening won’t cut it — and neither will listening hard. Being a good listener means listening with empathy. This makes it possible to have vigorous discussions with people who have different experiences and points of view.

8. The job of artists is to challenge. An artist at a university is part of a group of people who are thinking about the future. Artists must be informed and on the front edge of new knowledge, pushing boundaries and daring to say things that nobody else can say. Peter Sellars said, “As an artist, you have nothing to lose, because you are not running for re-election.”

9. If a university wore a tank top, it might say “Good Vibes Only.” Positivity is essential in a university, because it keeps students engaged. The more negative the world feels, the more political and social paralysis we’re facing, the more important it is to believe that we can’t give up on civilization. We’re not stuck. We have a lot more to do.


10. You don't go to college to get a job. (Wait, what?) The purpose of college is not simply job training, and your life should not be built around money. The university is a place for independent thought and for incubating ideas whose importance we don’t yet understand. What is your life’s work? What needs to be done on this earth? Choose what you want to do, and then create a new economic model in order to do it.

Catch the next 10 Questions event at UCLA. Attend for free. RSVP here.

Top Image: Man in a graduation toga on top of a mountain | Joseph Chan / Unsplash

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